Autophagy and other vacuolar protein degradation mechanisms

Experientia. 1992 Feb 15;48(2):158-72. doi: 10.1007/BF01923509.


Autophagic degradation of cytoplasm (including protein, RNA etc.) is a non-selective bulk process, as indicated by ultrastructural evidence and by the similarity in autophagic sequestration rates of various cytosolic enzymes with different half-lives. The initial autophagic sequestration step, performed by a poorly-characterized organelle called a phagophore, is subject to feedback inhibition by purines and amino acids, the effect of the latter being potentiated by insulin and antagonized by glucagon. Epinephrine and other adrenergic agonists inhibit autophagic sequestration through a prazosin-sensitive alpha 1-adrenergic mechanism. The sequestration is also inhibited by cAMP and by protein phosphorylation as indicated by the effects of cyclic nucleotide analogues, phosphodiesterase inhibitors and okadaic acid. Asparagine specifically inhibits autophagic-lysosomal fusion without having any significant effects on autophagic sequestration, on intralysosomal degradation or on the endocytic pathway. Autophaged material that accumulates in prelysosomal vacuoles in the presence of asparagine is accessible to endocytosed enzymes, revealing the existence of an amphifunctional organelle, the amphisome. Evidence from several cell types suggests that endocytosis may be coupled to autophagy to a variable extent, and that the amphisome may play a central role as a collecting station for material destined for lysosomal degradation. Protein degradation can also take place in a 'salvage compartment' closely associated with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). In this compartment unassembled protein chains are degraded by uncharacterized proteinases, while resident proteins return to the ER and assembled secretory and membrane proteins proceed through the Golgi apparatus. In the trans-Golgi network some proteins are proteolytically processed by Ca(2+)-dependent proteinases; furthermore, this compartment sorts proteins to lysosomes, various membrane domains, endosomes or secretory vesicles/granules. Processing of both endogenous and exogenous proteins can occur in endosomes, which may play a particularly important role in antigen processing and presentation. Proteins in endosomes or secretory compartments can either be exocytosed, or channeled to lysosomes for degradation. The switch mechanisms which decide between these options are subject to bioregulation by external agents (hormones and growth factors), and may play an important role in the control of protein uptake and secretion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocytosis
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / enzymology
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Vacuoles / metabolism*


  • Proteins
  • Endopeptidases